Margo Griffin

Channeling My Pain Out of Big Red’s Bad Toe

Big Red’s toes looked like shiny, plump breakfast sausages in a pan, waiting to be fried. I nodded as Big Red pointed down toward his well-worn sandal, wanting me to inspect his bruised big toe. But the small mark on his large toenail was no larger than a pinprick and didn’t look so bad, more like an itty-bitty dark freckle.

“Hurt like a sunovbitch,” Big Red continued.

I stared at the giant man sitting on the barstool, droning on about his poor stubbed toe. He was almost six feet tall even when he sat, and he weighed nearly two-hundred-fifty pounds. I wondered how much could a little thing like that could actually hurt?

The truth is, I hadn’t seen Big Red in some years and had forgotten what a sensitive, emotional man he is; some might even say he is a big baby. Meanwhile, I dropped a case of beer on my foot earlier this afternoon, and after letting out a single, loud cuss word, I didn’t make a peep. Instead, I welcomed the painful burn of the case’s impact as it radiated from my foot up through my leg. And then later, I put pressure on my right toes, standing on tiptoe to reach a bottle from the upper shelf, making sure I could still feel the sting of my damaged foot. Desensitized, my therapist had described.

“It was swollen and filled with fluid and blood, so I poked a hole into the center, relieving some of the pressure. Almost lost my whole damn nail!” Big Red exclaimed.

“Wow, you’re so brave,” I chuckled.

“Now don’t you go on being sassy, Claire,” Big Red chided.

“Sorry, Red,” I said. “Where have you been? I haven’t seen you around these parts in over two years.”

“Keeping myself busy in Florida with dad. He’s been having a real hard time since mom passed on,” Big Red said.

“Shoot, that must be tough,” I said, catching my breath. 

“Yeah, it really is, said Big Red, welling up.

I didn’t want to talk about death, and I didn’t know what to say to Big Red without sounding cold, so we floated in this space called awkward silence for several minutes. I would give anything if Big Red started complaining about his toe again.

“Hey, what’s your Lydia up to these days?”

I didn’t flinch but felt the sting as soon as I heard her name. And so I diverted my attention back to the bar, wiping down an already clean surface with a rag three more times. Stoic, my therapist had determined.

“Ahh, not much,” I said. I kept my answer short and expression blank, hoping Big Red would take the hint. But, of course, Big Red hasn’t lived around here for a couple of years now, so how could he possibly know he was proceeding down a tenuous path.

“That pretty girl of yours was sure smart, too. She must be getting ready to graduate soon,” Big Red said, lifting his bulky frame up from his stool.

“FUUUUCK!” yelped Red, jumping up and down on one foot like a child. “I whacked my frickin’ bad toe again!”

And then it happened. It sounded a little like the scream of the baby raccoon that got trapped in the dumpster out back last week. At first, I didn’t recognize where the sound originated, but Big Red was staring at me, and I realized the piercing wail was coming from me. Bewildered, Big Red stopped yelling about his bad toe, and he was silent, watching me as an endless stream of tears poured down my stricken face.

“Don’t go crying on my account, Claire. I’ll be all right,” he said.

Grief, my therapist had promised.

Margo Griffin has worked in urban education for over thirty years and is the mother of two amazing daughters and to the love of her life and best rescue dog ever, Harley. Some of her stories have appeared in interesting places such as Twin Pies Literary, Bending Genres, Roi Fainéant Press, and Bear Creek Gazette. You can find Margo on Twitter @67MGriffin